ZEITGUIDE TO SPORTS & THE POWER OF LOCALIZATION
While the World Cup has been the lead international summer sports story, interest in the U.S. is down. With the U.S. squad missing the tournament, viewership of the first round of action on Fox and FS1 fell 42 percent from ESPN’s coverage four years ago. The competition has drawn record ratings, however, in countries including France and the U.K. whose teams have been at the center of the tournament’s most dramatic action.
The lesson: Local and national pride go hand in hand with fan level of interest.
If you need more evidence to support this claim, look no further than Las Vegas, Nevada; this year’s lead market for the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. A desert city without a hockey team as of a year ago, Vegas became the country’s most puck-crazy metropolis with the introduction, and an inaugural season that surpassed the wildest expectations, of the Vegas Golden Knights.
No wonder we continue to see leagues undertake expansion as a principle tactic to grow their fanbases. That might soon mean the return of the NBA to Seattle (welcome back, Sonics), a new NHL Seattle franchise, or even more ambitiously, NFL teams in Mexico or the U.K. Major League Soccer added three new teams in Nashville, Miami and a second franchise in Los Angeles for this season, and a team is coming to Cincinnati in 2019.
Keep an eye out for your local coming esports team as well. In 2018 the Overwatch League became the first esports league to have teams named for localities, with an inaugural season featuring team names such as the Shanghai Dragons and the Boston Uprising.
The importance of local connections is a lesson sports media is taking to heart too. With many local papers folding or undergoing significant downsizing, their respective sports sections aren’t what they used to be. Enter new online outlets with a regional focus, including digital outfits led by veteran newspaper reporters such as DK Pittsburgh Sports and the Boston Sports Journal. Subscription-only sports site, The Athletic, has raised $20 million and plans to have local editions in 45 markets by the end of 2018. Barstool Sports, now featuring a radio channel, dozens of popular podcasts and an oddball mix of social content, blogs and original videos, has grown to a $100 million valuation on the strength of its everyman coverage of local teams.
And there are positive connotations for loving your local team. “It’s one of the few things left in our society that bridges our divides,” says journalist George Dohrmann, who explored this dynamic further in his recent book Superfans: Into the Heart of Obsessive Sports Fandom.
Daniel Wann, a social psychologist at Murray State University who has spent 30 years studying sports fans, has found a positive correlation between an obsession with a favorite team, including higher levels of “self-worth, frequency of positive emotions, feeling connected with others [and] belief in the trustworthiness of others.” Those are feelings we could all use more of these days.
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